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David Poland

By David Poland

33 Weeks To Oscar: The Season Without A Frontrunner

There are a lot of familiar faces going into the 2013 awards season. Hanks, Streep, Clooney, Scorsese, Ron Howard, The Coens, Payne, Reitman… heck, you pretty much have a do-over with David O. Russell made his own supergroup, combining the forces of The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook for American Hustle.

And yet… in this whole group of films that are generally considered legit contenders, there is nothing with that sense of inevitability that, for instance, last season had with Lincoln or Les Misérables or Life of Pi or Zero Dark Thirty. Everything seems to have question marks around it.

I have a list of 23 titles contending for Best Picture at this point. There will be 1 or 2 additions in September, no doubt. More subtractions.

The Weinsteins have 6 movies in play, 3 each for Sony, Warner Bros, and Paramount, 2 at Universal, and singles at (in alphabetical order) CBS, Disney, DreamWorks, Focus, Relativity, and Searchlight.

The Weinstein Company
August: Osage County
The Butler (pending title change)
Fruitvale Station
Grace of Monaco
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Labor Day
The Wolf of Wall Street

American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Monuments Men

Warner Bros

About Time

Single Servings
Dallas Buyers Club (Focus)
The Fifth Estate (DreamWorks)
Inside Llewyn Davis (CBS)
Out of the Furnace (Relativity)
Saving Mr. Banks (Disney)
Twelve Years a Slave (Searchlight)

There are a few titles I left out, even though the studios involved would like to get them in the game. Focus would like The Place Beyond The Pines to shove its way in, but I don’t see it. All Is Lost is a nice film, but not an awards movie. Blue Jasmine is Woody Allen’s most interesting work in years… but probably an “actress only” proposition. Mud is a tremendous movie… but aside from screenplay, the hill is awfully high. None of the animation this year, so far, is a threat to break out of the Animation category.

I can pick 7 or 8 of the titles out of the list for reasons of distributor, release date, and/or assumptions about the films being limited in the range of likely nominations. So the list already feels rather short… which means that there is more opportunity for a surprise entry out of Toronto or a step up from one or two of what now seem like borderline films.

Here are your On Paper Nominees:
American Hustle
August: Osage County
The Butler
Captain Phillips
Inside Llewyn Davis
Monuments Men
Saving Mr. Banks
Twelve Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street

Don’t misunderstand. I am not saying these 9 are all inevitable nominees. But if you look at them all on paper, this is the group.

David O. Russell is 2 for his last 2. Streep and Julia Roberts in the adaptation of a Pulitzer-winning play. Forest Whitaker, also getting a bump as producer of Fruitvale Station, is back with a piece of racial history from the perspective of a man who won by not fighting back. Tom Hanks as the brave captain taking on Somali pirates. The Coens… for the kids. Clooney goes to save stolen art after The War. A movie about a movie (Mary Poppins) with Hanks as Disney and Emma Thompson returning to make us all fall in love with her again. A movie about a free black man who was re-enslaved with a cast of genius actors and a great artist directing. And Scorsese & DiCaprio having flashy Wall Street-smacking fun.

But even in those 9… is there really a seemingly clear frontrunner? Here is the inverted perspective of The On Paper Nine…

Are they really going to nominate three David O. Russell movies in a row? The play was better than the film… stick with Streep. Lee Daniels makes movies too tough for The Academy and won’t it be all too PC? Pirates… they are going to nominate a movie about pirates? Minor Coens. Sounds more like Kelly’s Heroes than an Oscar movie, George. Mary Poppins… seriously? Does anyone really care about Mary Poppins in 2013? If they were going to embrace Steve McQueen, they would have done already… he makes art, not emotionally accessible movies. It’s not like they nominated After Hours or The King of Comedy.

Me? If I were betting today, I’d be all over Saving Mr. Banks. The real world might not care about the making of Mary Poppins in 2013, but The Academy will, especially if it’s a lovely little movie with familiar-but-unfamiliar characters. It seems like the potential heart movie.

But the heart’s wants change with the times. I’ve only seen 1 of the 9 movies on the On Paper list, so I can’t even come close to knowing which film might hit people like a ton of bricks. Some are thinking that Stephen Frears’ Philomena might be that movie in Toronto. Jason Reitman could hit just the right note for the times. Monument Men could unite the audience in a profound way. Does Cuarón’s Gravity turn out to be much more important than just being a thriller? You never know.

I’m kind of excited about a season that might rely so heavily on the movies themselves. Or maybe Forest Whitaker will be snubbed by a taxi driver in Toronto and that will make him the sympathetic character of the season, propelling one of his movies to Best Picture.

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38 Responses to “33 Weeks To Oscar: The Season Without A Frontrunner”

  1. Bob Burns says:

    thanks for the article.

    Before Midnight belongs somewhere on these lists.

  2. Julian says:

    What are the chances Before Midnight lands some nods? It’s the best thing I’ve seen all year, and very much deserving of Actress/Actor nods.

  3. Daniella Isaacs says:

    Scorsese didn’t finally win his Oscar with an art film, he won with an emotionally accessible one, so that doesn’t wash. And you thought KING OF COMEDY was emotionally accessible? Really? Also, “If they were going to embrace Steve McQueen, they would have done already…” Why’s that. His first two films very very tough art films, and this one seems more… emotionally accessible. I know you’re just playing devil’s advocate in that paragraph, but really. And I’d bet PLACE BEYOND THE PINES gets in. As the months go by, people seem to be more and more impressed with what they remember it to be from those May/June screenings.

  4. Thomasi says:

    “Scorsese makes art, not emotionally accessible movies”?

    Who says these things are mutually exclusive? Certainly not the Academy, who saw enough art and emotional accessibility in seven of his films to nominate them for Best Picture. And is there anyone who expects “The Wolf of Wall Street” to be closer in kind to “After Hours” than to, say, “The Departed”?

  5. Paul Doro says:

    Wasn’t Before Sunset pretty much universally adored, just like Before Midnight? Yet it only received a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination. I can see that happening again.

  6. chris says:

    By far the best of the stories of this ilk I’ve seen so far. Thanks for this. Based solely on the trailer and subject matter, “12 Years” looks like a big-time front-runner to me. And “August:Osage County” will be a tough one to translate to film — I would love it if Wells proves to be the man, but I wonder.

  7. David Poland says:

    Actually, I think something got changed in editing… or I just f-ed up. That comment that was being attributed (as devil’s advocate) was about McQueen, not Scorsese.

  8. David Poland says:

    And I adore Before Midnight. Getting it into the Best Picture race, which is all I am talking about here, will be a great challenge. Should get a boatload of Indie Spirit nods and they should do a separate segment honoring the trilogy.

  9. GexL says:

    Blue Jasmine is ‘the most interesting Woody in years’ but not BP worthy? How does Midnight in Paris fit into that reasoning?

  10. movielocke says:

    Avatar – Rush
    The Blind Side – Gravity
    District 9 – Elysium
    An Education – Philomena
    Hurt Locker – 12 Years a Slave
    Inglorious Bastards – Monuments Men
    Precious – The Butler
    A Serious Man – Inside Llywen Davis
    Up – Saving Mr. Banks
    Up in the Air – Labor Day

    kind of funny how neat the race is in paralleling the 2010 race. it’s not perfect, but I find it amusing.

  11. Steven Kaye says:

    Blue Jasmine will be in the running. Your track record when it comes to predictions for Woody Allen films is extraordinarily bad.

  12. BoulderKid says:

    I agree with those that say it’s too early to cut “Pines” out of the best picture race. It was seen by enough to not be relegated to the art house black hole and I think some of the films that you listed have to hit the mark before you start crossing a movie like “Pines” off.

  13. pj says:

    It begins! I am excited.
    My top 10
    12 Years A Slave
    American Hustle
    August: Osage County
    Fruitvale Station
    Inside Llweyn Davis
    Saving Mr Banks
    The Wolf of Wall Street

  14. christian says:

    Julie Delpy should be nominated for Best Actress for BEFORE MIDNIGHT. Wouldn’t begrudge Hawke getting a Best Actor nom as well.

  15. Chris L. says:

    PJ, I do believe you only listed nine there. 🙂

    Also, is it now official that Foxcatcher is bumped to 2014? What about Third Person?

  16. John Hancock says:

    Short Term 12?

    I know it’s a little movie, but I attended a screening last week, and was surprised how much better it was than my “generic festival indie” presumptions. Gets better the more I think about it, and Brie Larson is really great in it. Probably a long shot, but seems worthy of discussion.

  17. thespirithunter says:

    Could this be the year? Five black best actor nominees?

    Making up for lost time?

  18. Doug Pratt says:

    Every time I’ve seen the trailer for Gravity in a theater, the audience has been exceptionally hostile. Not snide, just people loudly telling their friends, “I don’t want to see that.” Doesn’t look promising.

  19. John Lownsbrough says:

    Blue Jasmine could well garner multiple nominations. Blanchett is a sure-shot; in a potentially one-note character, she delivers a stunning performance and drives the movie. But direction,screenplay,and cinematography are other possibles. And Sally Hawkins, in the counterpoint role to Blanchett, ought to get supporting actress. On a side-note, want to join the Before Midnight supporters. Delpy and Hawke both terrific. Good year for Sony Pictures Classics.

  20. anghus says:

    The rest of the year would have to be a real dud for Before Midnight to make anything other than the screenplay category.

  21. anon says:


    Steven Kaye is back with a vengeance!

  22. brack says:

    I still miss the days when Oscar bait wasn’t a phrase. Who can possibly watch all the nominees by the end of the year?

    I liked The Place Beyond the Pines, but it really isn’t a great film.

  23. hcat says:

    I would think given Woody’s track record in the supporting actress category Hawkins is a lock for a nom.

  24. christian says:

    Anghus: Life Sucks — And Such Small Portions!

  25. Don Lewis says:

    I think UPSTREAM COLOR and SHORT TERM 12 could (could!) be considered dark horse candidates for a Best Picture nod. If BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD managed it, I think those two could as well. If managed correctly.

  26. Larry Gopnik says:

    No fucking way for UPSTREAM COLOR. I adore the movie, but come on.

  27. Don Lewis says:

    It seems to be the #1 rated movie of the year thus far from critics….which means squat. I know it’s a long shot but so was BEASTS.

  28. chris says:

    Yeah, but “Beasts of the Southern Wild” had Fox Searchlight and the marketability of Quvenzhane Wallis and “Upstream Color” has erbp or whatever and the marketability of Amy Seimetz.

  29. movielocke says:

    I agree. every time I’ve seen the Gravity trailer, it has been meant with laughter, sometimes baffled sometimes hostile, but laughter every time.

    My wife leaned over to me and said, “that looks Awful!” when we first saw it.

    and I replied, “I can’t believe you don’t want to see a two and a half hour movie about someone drifting in space as they slowly suffocate to death or die falling towards earth.”

  30. christian says:

    I’ve seen the GRAVITY trailer twice in packed audiences. Nobody reacted with vocal derision. Kind of awed silence.

  31. Etguild2 says:

    Even if they hadn’t seen it, a lot of people had at least heard of “Beasts of the Southern Wild” by this time last year. Not so of “Upstream.”

    Cate Blanchett, who I adore, is an actress who the Academy would love to award a statue to. Despite being virtually absent from major roles on screen in the past few years, she’s never far from the top in the “greatest working actress” conversation. Given that she’s also in “Monuments Man,” and possibly in “Knight of Cups” this fall (though that postponement should come any day), now seems like the perfect time…

    And wow…hate at GRAVITY trailer screenings? Even in Virginia…can’t say I’ve seen that.

  32. palmtree says:

    Sure it looks awful when everyone around you is laughing at it. That’s the magic of audiences, methinks.

    Watching the Gravity trailer on my computer, it was pretty much “awed silence” mixed in with fanboy 2001 reverence.

  33. Triple Option says:

    Saw the gravity trailer and wondered what all would be going on to not make it a bore. I doubt it’ll be a dud but I could see it being just OK.

  34. Mij Grebso says:

    Am I the only one who thinks Ridley Scott’s “The Counselor” has a shot?

  35. movieman says:

    Et- Blanchett won Best Supporting Actress for “The Aviator,” but this would be her first win in the lead category if she can take her summer heat all the way through the upcoming awards season.
    Considering the rapturous early reviews for “Blue Jasmine” (and the Woody Factor), I think Blanchett and Hawkins both have a very good chance at

  36. cadavra says:

    No mention of 42? Worthy in any number of categories.

  37. Drew McWeeny says:

    “Gravity” is 88 minutes, for the record. Not two and a half hours.

  38. Danny says:

    When I saw the “Gravity” 3D trailer in a theater, the audience reactions was gasps and excited buzzing afterwards, to an extent I had never before experienced for any other trailer. This was a very mainstream typically-diverse-for-NYC audience.

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